My first memories, like the ones of everyone in this earth, are a fuzzy, uncoordinated ocean of amorphous circumstances and people that are intersected on occasion by moments of supreme clarity that I can remember perfectly as if they had happened a few hours ago. (Un?)surprisingly enough, most of them have to do with cars.
I couldn’t quite say Maserati before I could say Mommy, but apparently I came wired from the factory to like cars, even before I know what a car actually was. I don’t remember when my mother decided to do a giant pyramid of Gerber glass bottles for me to pose in front of, but I do remember the not-at-all-momentous time when I walked behind my dad’s Nissan truck and noticed it had a black strip across the tailgate.
When I was five or thereabouts they bought me a Safari green pedal-powered Jeep that I drove everywhere provided it wasn’t uphill. My doctor couldn’t get within a couple of feet of me to do anything unless he brought a sacrificial offering of a toy car (Or a lollipop). You get the point. But my actual first memory, at least the one that I have always accepted as the first, on account that I was still on a booster seat when it happened, goes as follows:
I’m in the back seat of a car on a rainy night. It’s very dark. I look to the front and a bit to the left of me and there’s my mother, completely focused on driving. The radio has some people talking on it. It’s a low car and there are no doors in the back. There is a green thing glowing on the dashboard.
And that’s it. I realize that at that age I probably didn’t know any of those words, certainly not in English, but it’s the best way to describe what I see when I close my eyes and transport myself back to that time. I suppose I would have a lot more detail on the image if my brain had known any words with which to do association with. But I guess it’s too much to ask of a two(or so) year old. At first I didn’t even know if it was a memory or a dream that I remembered, but as I got older and the old memory bank was doing sorting a slightly newer memory surfaced. It was once again a memory of me waking behind a red car. I’m told that whenever I saw one I walked around it as it wanting to take all of it in. In this one I noticed there was something written in the back of it.Being the precocious little scamp that I was I had to try and say it.
I’m not sure that the market had the same warm reception to the Celica that I had. When it was launched in 1990 the coupe market was still there, but it was beginning to show signs of shrinking. The people were beginning to add more doors and more ride height to their preferences. Nonetheless, it may be the memory playing me, but I find this to be the prettiest Celica they built. The ‘Super Round’ (their words not mine) styling Took over from the angular shapes and creases of the ‘80s and smoothed out into what ‘90s car design was going to be all about. Front-wheel drive and a measly 103HP from the base engine meant that purists would probably scoff at it, I think it was adequate for the intended purpose of looking good and making its driver look good as well.
They were certainly at lot better at that than their successor, which looks as though Toyota decided to ditch pop-ups at the last minute and realized they’d still have to put the headlights somewhere.
And anyway, if you wanted a real sports coupe instead of a city cruiser Toyota would gladly sell you a Widebody All-trac with a turbocharged engine capable of 221 Horsepower. Some models had four-wheel steering, but those were only sold in Japan. The ST185 (GT-Four) model was built as a homolgation special so that the Celica could go rallying.
It was very successful, winning four of the rallies that they entered it in 1992 and the 1993 and 1994 World Rally Championships altogether. Its successor, the ST205 is perhaps more remembered for what has to be one of the best cheats on racing history. When the FIA instructed rally teams to fit restrictor plates on the turbos of all Group A rally cars, Toyota mounted theirs on springs that would make it move back under load and allow up to 25% more air to pass through the turbo. Everything was built in a gap so small that it didn’t look like it could be opened. So when it wasn’t under load everything looked perfectly compliant. Max Mosley himself said that the cheat was “the most sophisticated and ingenious device either I or the FIA’s technical experts have seen for a long-time.” And it got Toyota banned from rallying for the rest of 1995 and 1996.
The one my mother drove didn’t share much apart from a passing resemblance to those rally monsters. No, as far as I can work out it was a completely standard front-wheel drive model. It could’ve maybe been an GT, which ditched the 1.6-liter for a 130 HP 2.2 mill. She sure didn’t know; it wasn’t even hers. Though shocking to me, it did solve the problem of me remembering it being stored in a garage despite the fact we didn’t have one. It was loaned to her by a friend while the Fiat was suffering from old-age problems and her Chevette had just decided it was a lot more fun to blow water out of its radiator rather than use it to cool the engine. I don’t know how long she had it or whatever came out of the friends that loaned it to her. What I do know is that, involuntarily, they kickstarted my passion in cars as well as my memory.